From 1995

For those who thought that a few months before the 1996 election, President Clinton would push Secretary of the Interior Babbitt aside, install some recently –defeated western Democratic governor– Wyoming’s Mike Sullivan has been mentioned–and seek to make peace with Westerners, the wait is over.

It ain’t going to happen!

On Friday, August 25, with Old Faithful in the background, President Clinton announced a mining claim moratorium on 4,500 acres of federally-owned land near Yellowstone National Park. After months of pressure by environmental organizations, aided by publications like The New York Times, Clinton has decided that his success in 1996 depends more on keeping environmental extremists placated than on joining with Westerners to balance environmental protection with jobs. Given the chance to come West and make peace, Clinton chose to escalate a war that until now was seen as the work of the environmental activists he appointed, but not the President himself.

The target of Clinton’s announcement is the New World Mining District, located beyond the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, which is the site of two underground gold-copper- silver-bearing deposits. Those deposits will support a ten-to-twelve year mine with year-round employment of 175 people

with an average annual wage of $3 5,000 (compared to the area’s current average of $16,000), plus benefits. The annual payroll will exceed $7 million with an additional $7 million expended on goods and services in the local economy. Eighty secondary jobs will also be created. Annual tax revenues will exceed $2.33 million.

Clinton’s announcement puts all that in jeopardy. As one environmental activist enthused, “It doesn’t kill the project. But it tightens the noose.” Clinton’s announcement also gives carte blanche to Secretaries Babbitt and Glickman to erect every barrier they can during the course of environmental studies and permitting and patenting procedures conducted by federal officials.

Ironically, the New World Mine is in an area that has seen mining activity ever since the white man first came West. As early as 1875, ore was being smelted there. By 1952, gold production in the area helped to make Park County, Montana, the third highest gold producing area in the state. In 1978, when Congress created the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area to the north and east, it excluded the mining area as a result of the U.S. Geological Survey’s prediction of future mineral development.

The fact that the New World Mine would be located on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, in accordance with multiple use principles, the fact that the mine is neither part of nor visible from any place in Yellowstone National Park, the fact that world-class ore bodies such as those at the New World Mine are extremely rare, and the fact that the mine will provide much needed jobs and tax revenue is irrelevant to environmental extremists and their ally, President Clinton. For them, all of the nearly 20 million acres of land surrounding Yellowstone–as much as 25 percent of which is privately owned–should be managed as part of a vast park.

That was the essence of the “Yellowstone Vision Document” released by the National Park Service in August 1990. The response to that document was immediate, as thousands of Westerners in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming vigorously opposed the proposal. Before it was over, all three governors–including two Democrats–signed a letter to the President denouncing the Vision Document and the two federal officials responsible for the fiasco were moved out of the region.

Now, five years after the “Vision Document” first saw the light of day, President Clinton is responding to those environmental extremists who want to put an end to all economic activity in what they call the “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” Clinton’s wholehearted embrace of the War on the West that Secretary Babbitt started two and one half years ago is the result of a simple mathematical calculation. Clinton concluded that there just aren’t enough Westerners or Western electoral votes to matter. We’ll see.§

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